OSPCA wants out of horse, livestock cruelty probes due to funding shortage by Marlene Black

Marlene Black

Recently, several farm papers have been reporting that the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) has plans to restructure their organization and may pull back from investigating cases that involve farm animals such as livestock and horses. Landowners have been aware for some time now, that the OSPCA inspectors may not fully understand ‘normal farm practises’ as charges against some farmers for abusing their animals have not been successful in court. Hips on a milking Holstein cow are visible and do not mean that they are starving. Farm dogs that protect the sheep from wolves at night have a job to do and when an inspector forces the farmer to put his dog in the house, it could mean disaster for his herd. Insisting that a farmer, with three sources of fresh water for his horses, not use this water but instead force them to drink his well water which has sulphur in it, was yet another example of not understanding the complexities of how farm animals are raised.

The OSPCA has revealed that it has operated its enforcement arm at a significant financial loss for some years now, using donor dollars from other operations, which include shelters and rescue programs to help it out. Because of financial struggles, it is unable to continue with its specialized team of investigators who oversaw more complex cases like dogfighting rings, zoos and aquarium complaints. Presently, the OSPCA officers have police powers and can lay both provincial offence and criminal animal cruelty charges. So many people have felt the sting of charges that, after years of court attendances and thousands of dollars in legal fees, have resulted in dropped charges or revealed that there was no abuse. Many animal owners expressed concern that once in court, there was pressure to sign that they were guilty and have a reduced fine. If they didn’t, they ran the chance of getting a much greater fine and possibly time in jail.

The OSPCA has been discussing farming out animal cruelty protection of large farm animals to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs even though, under the Act, the ministry personnel do not have the same enforcement authority. If the OSPCA no longer performs these duties, then police services have authority to enforce animal welfare laws.

Currently the OSPCA receives $5.75 million each year from the Provincial government and according to a Canadian press article, Oct. 31/18, the agency brought in $7 million from donations and fundraising last year, which was outlined in their 2017 financial report. It took in about $2.4 million in municipal contract fees and $2.1 million in shelter and veterinary revenue. The report states animal care and protection cost nearly $14 million. There are currently 71 officers who respond to animal cruelty concerns across the entire province, down from about 200 a decade ago.

For many years, the Ontario Landowners Association (OLA) has been receiving complaints from animal owners about visits they had had from the OSPCA and the orders they had to comply with or be fined. Farm animals were frequently the target of the visits, but the calls also came from people with pets and in many cases, the charges just seemed outrageous and showed a lack of training on the part of the officers. People were spending time and money in court only to have the charges dropped. The OLA assisted where we could in these cases, but the charges kept coming and it was obvious that a different approach was needed.

In October 2013, the OLA filed a charter challenge of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) Act in Superior Court of Justice, Ontario.  It is important to note that our application to the court was not meant undermine the protection of animals. On the contrary, if this application is successful, it is expected that the law will be changed to ensure that animals are better protected in a manner expected by Ontario residents.  

Lead council for the application is Kurtis Andrews, an Ottawa based lawyer, who practices constitutional law, animal welfare law and other areas of law across Ontario.

The application was heard on May 16th, 2018 at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Perth. Mr. Andrews has recently advised us that he has been told that the decision has been delayed but should be released on or before January 14th, 2019, almost five and a half years after the application was filed.

It is important to note that our application to the courts may have influenced the activities of the OSPCA even before the decision is released. Calls to the OLA have significantly diminished, donations to the agency appear to have dwindled, and the Agency is signalling their departure from investigating farm animals.

For more information on our charter challenge visit www.FixtheLaw.ca. Please consider a contribution to assist with our costs by donating online on the website or by sending a cheque payable to the OLA Litigation Fund and mailing it to P.O. Box 346, Woodlawn, ON. K0A 3M0. The OLA wishes to thank all of our contributors who have made this challenge possible.